In 2008, I had everything going for me: a busy and successful ob-gyn practice; a precocious 9 year old daughter; and a well used passport from traveling all over the world with my family to attend conferences, with a liberal dose of vacation on the side. When I was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer in April, I considered it a mere bump in the road.
And for five years, breast cancer was an aside, something to put in the past medical history section of forms. Even when I developed sudden back pain, I never thought it could be breast cancer rearing its ugly head – a pulled muscle, a herniated disc maybe, but not what it turned out to be: metastatic breast cancer in virtually every bone in my body, with a fractured vertebrae and an about to break left femur. I was diagnosed in 2013, on my 53rd birthday.
I have been extremely lucky, for after an unconventional 14 month course of combination IV chemo and zometa, followed by a more conventional aromatase inhibitor, I was lucky enough to be NEAD – No Evidence of Active Disease – from April 2014 to May 2021, when I experienced my first progression. Neuropathy from the chemo, however, cost me my career. When I realized that the numbness in my hands wasn’t going to go away, I had to do some soul searching; as an ob/gyn my ability to palpate lumps and masses, my ability to skillfully wield a scalpel or catch a baby depended on my hands. It was no longer safe for me to see patients. My entire identity was wrapped around being a doctor and a mom, and with my daughter approaching college and needing me less, I was adrift, questioning whether I even deserved to take up oxygen on this planet.
Thankfully, I have found a new purpose in advocacy. This started with attending patient focused conferences put on by the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. I realized I could use my science and medical background to gather information about MBC, translate it into patient friendly terms (a skill I honed in my 25 years of practice), and disseminate it to others through my growing social media presence. I started going to scientific conferences as well, like the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and the annual meetings of ASCO and AACR, where I met researchers and oncologists and began partnering with them as a research advocate.
In 2015 I discovered METAvivor, and hosted a fundraiser stop on the first “Sea to Sea for MBC” tour. Ardently believing in METAvivor’s mission of raising money for research to benefit those whose breast cancer has already metastasized, I became more and more involved, eventually accepting a position on the board of directors in 2019. In addition, I am a member of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance; a Komen Advocate in Science; a helpline volunteer for Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Imerman Angels; and a grant reviewer for the DoD Breast Cancer Research Program, Komen, and METAvivor.
Sometimes we have to reinvent ourselves when life throws us curveballs. The feelings of worthlessness I felt when my career as an ob/gyn was stolen by MBC have been replaced with a sense of pride and accomplishment in what I can do as an advocate. I may not be saving lives with my scalpel, but I am making a difference in the lives of people with MBC. And, it turns out, even 22 year old college grads still need their mom. That is my legacy.
Mother, daughter, doctor, woman LIVING with metastatic breast cancer.
Project Life Member